During their October 4 meeting, the Caledonia Board of Aldermen overrode a mayoral veto of pay raises for municipal employees, heard from a doctor setting up a local practice and fielded a citizen complaint about sewer service.
Last month the board voted to give pay raises to municipal employees. Laborers in the water department were given a 50-cent per hour cost of living raise, and the water department office manager was given a $1.50 per hour raise. [This was essentially the 50-cent raise plus a dollar for additional duties she has taken on. – Brian Jones] Water Superintendent Benny Coleman was given a 3% raise.
In addition, the marshal’s department was given permission to extend the number of hours its deputies could work. In lieu of giving Marshal Ben Kilgore a raise, the town decided to pay his share of his state insurance for him. [Kilgore is a retired state employee. – Brian Jones] Finally, Town Clerk Judy Whitcomb was given a 50-cent per hour raise.
Mayor George Gerhart objected to all of the raises. He was particularly vocal about opposing raises for Whitcomb and Coleman. He stated that he was over the department heads and, since he did not recommend a raise for any of the employees, they shouldn’t get one.
Gerhart formally vetoed some of the raises September 16. He did not challenge the increase in hours for the deputy marshals or for Terry Farrish, who does some maintenance work around town. However, he vetoed all other pay raises because the board gave the raises over his objections. He also noted that he felt the raises were out of line because of the current state of the economy. [This was an especially interesting tack for the mayor to take, given that, during their October 4 meeting, the statement was made that the town had over $172,000 in its account and that the board needed to look into investing $75,000 or so of that money in a CD. – Brian Jones] Tuesday night Alderman Steve Honnoll made a motion to override the mayor’s veto. He was seconded by Alderman Bill Darnell.
Gerhart immediately went on the offensive.
“The first thing I’d like to know, especially under (Marshal Ben Kilgore), is how did they ever come up with a salary of $60,000 for a town this size?” Gerhart asked. [Mr. Kilgore is not paid $60,000. As a state retiree, he may only draw a certain amount of money without jeopardizing his retirement benefits. I believe he is actually paid around $30,000 a year, which is in line with what other towns Caledonia’s size around the state pay their law enforcement heads. – Brian Jones] “Where did that come from? I have looked all through the Mississippi Municipal League book and I can’t find any towns this size that pay that high. Their full pay is $25,000 to $30,000. I don’t understand how we got up to $60,000. I brought that up at our first meeting.”
“I thought it was based on Ben pulling full retirement,” said Alderman Quinn Parham. “I thought the job had to be posted at double that amount so he could make what he’s making.”
“When they advertised for a marshal they advertised for full time,” said Town Attorney Jeff Smith. “The mayor brought them in here and y’all looked at them and they were passed around. There were about 10 comparables. They hired Ben based on being a full time, but he could only make half of what the pay was. Sixty was probably the highest of all of them.”
“Meridian has a population of 39,000,” Gerhart said. “Their chief makes $56,850. Macon is 3,000, they pay $44,000. Shannon…well, my point is this. I don’t know where you come up with $60,000.”
“You’re making is sound like we’re paying $60,000, and we’re not,” said Alderman Mike Savage.
“Another thing,” Gerhart said. “Are you sure about paying his insurance money to him directly?”
“It has to be done that way,” Smith said. “And on it it would say ‘insurance.’ And you don’t take anything out of it because it’s a benefit.”
“Why couldn’t we use a payroll reduction and put him on the insurance at the water department?” Gerhart asked.
“Because he’s not an employee of the water department would be my reasoning,” Coleman said.
The veto was overridden on a 4-1 vote, with Parham voting no.
Dr. Ray Beezley appeared to announce his planned medical practice. Beezley is moving into the old Hottest Dog location on Wolf Road.
“I’m originally from Texas,” he said. “I married a woman from Mississippi. My original medical training was in Texas at the University of Texas. I’m specialized in internal medicine and pediatrics. When I first came to Columbus about six years ago I worked part time for Baptist Memorial setting up a hospitalist program. That’s a program where people don’t get to be treated by their physician when they go to the hospital. It’s the trend of modern medicine today and we started that program there. I got into a practice with an impaired physician and I helped get his license taken away. It was a bad situation. That was the Dr. Burtman debacle. [In June law enforcement agencies, including the DEA, raided Dr. Mark Burtman’s office. Burtman was an OB-GYN who practiced at the urgent care clinic on Chubby Drive. Burtman was suspected of writing illegal prescriptions. – Brian Jones] In no way, shape or form was I ever involved. In fact I was partly responsible for feeding narcotics task forces and the DEA information about him. He was a badly impaired physician and he’s not practicing now, thank goodness.
“My wife and I have been considering Caledonia for the past four or five years,” he said. “We would also like to bring a pharmacy back to town like you hadin the old days. We have parties interested in doing that independently – by law I can’t be associated financially with a pharmacy. Now I’m working very hard to turn the old Hottest Dog location into what I think it should be.”
Beezley said in the future he plans to add an ambulance bay to the back of the site.
“We’re done with basically phase one, where we’ve finished the inside,” he said. “Phase two will be making the outside more appealing, and eventually we want to add an ambulance bay. I’ve had people in my experience come in with heart attacks, and we’re going to be prepared for anything like that.”
Tina Clark and Jeff Conwell complained about the lack of sewer service on Cal-Vernon Road.
“I moved in around 1993,” Clark said. “I have been in the city limits since then. Over the years our septic has finally broken down. Everybody I know is on a septic system. I want to know how long it’ll be before we get sewer lines down our way.”
“We tried a few years ago but it cost so much to install sewer that people didn’t want to pay and we didn’t want to borrow the money,” Gerhart said. “That was back in 1999 or 2000.”
“The expense would be astronomical,” Coleman said. “I’d be afraid to guess the expense.”
“We pay city taxes, we should have the amenities,” Conwell said.
“Not everybody in the city has sewer,” Gerhart pointed out.
Gerhart said the town will get an estimate from the town engineer and will then see how many people are interested in a sewer hookup.
In other business, the town accepted the Community Green Connection Grant from the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association. The $1,000 grant will go towards landscaping at the veteran’s memorial at the entrance to Ola J. Pickett Park.
Caledonia was one of three communities in the state to be given the grant.